The Arizona Department of Transportation approved Waymo for a commercial self-driving car service, the first fully autonomous license in the country.
Riders in Arizona will be able to be picked up and dropped off by one of the company’s thousands of driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which the company grew from 600 earlier this year.
During its initial testing phase (dubbed the “early rider program”), the driverless vehicle service was free to riders in Arizona. However, Waymo’s new designation will allow it to charge for the rides.
The company hasn’t said how much it will charge riders, but the lack of human drivers means costs will likely be competitive with Uber and Lyft’s human-powered networks.
Uber and Lyft Competition
Waymo is preparing to launch a ride-hailing service akin to Uber’s, but with driverless cars. The self-driving carmaker spun out of Google was approved on Jan. 24 to operate as a transportation network company (TNC) in Arizona, the state department of transportation told Quartz. Waymo applied for the permit on Jan. 12. Its application, which was reviewed by Quartz, contained images of the autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans the company is testing in five US states.
The application realizes a long-held fear of Uber’s: that Waymo intends not just to build driverless cars, but to operate its own ride-hailing business.
Arizona granted the TNC permit a week and a half before Waymo commenced its trade secrets trial against Uber in San Francisco, alleging Uber stole Waymo’s knowledge on how to build self-driving cars. The two companies reached a settlement on Feb. 9, five days into the trial, which includes Uber paying Waymo a 0.34% equity stake and agreeing not to incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into its software or hardware. But nothing prevents Waymo from competing in the ride-hailing arena.
Waymo confirmed to Quartz that the TNC permit moves it a step closer to the commercial, on-demand ride service it plans to launch in Phoenix this year. “As we continue to test drive our fleet of vehicles in greater Phoenix, we’re taking all the steps necessary to launch our commercial service this year,” a Waymo spokesman said in an emailed statement. The company said it hasn’t announced rates yet for those rides. Waymo plans to operate commercially in other cities in the future, but declined to provide specifics.
Waymo’s vehicles in the Phoenix area have driven more than 4 million miles on public roads. In November, the company said a portion of its cars in the Phoenix area were operating in fully autonomous mode, what’s known in industry parlance as level four autonomy. “A fully self-driving fleet can offer new and improved forms of sharing,” Waymo said at the time, adding that in coming months it would invite members of the public to ride in the fully autonomous vehicles, beginning with those already in the early rider program.
Naysayers Move On
What about dogs, cats, balls, theft, grandmothers on roller skates, and all the other arguments naysayers said would prevent this technology for at least a decade if not longer?
It appears those issues have been solved according to the the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The arguments will now return to the same nonsense about snow, ice, rain and ludicrous ethical conundrums in which a driver has to decide whether to roll over a dog or hit a pedestrian.
A quick check of my calendar says the year is 2018, not 2028. Whatever issues remain for snow and ice will be solved in the next three years, if not sooner.
Human-driven trucks will vanish on interstate highways within a year or two of approval, and that could be as soon as 2020.
Mike "Mish" Shedlock